Nina is an outsider among outsiders. As a young Russian woman living in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, on a J-1 student visa, she is on the margins of a community of established Russian immigrants. And as her visa runs out, her options for staying in the U.S. become more and more limited. Desperate for opportunity and stability, she risks working illegally, taking on degrading, underpaying jobs, and putting herself at the mercy of those ready to take advantage of her vulnerable position. All for the possibility of a better life.
Taking an intimate look at one day in Nina’s life, Girls Gone J-1 is a film about trans-national identity, economic and sexual exploitation, and vodka. It is also a film about Brighton Beach and the people who live there. Through Nina’s daily interactions with friends, family, employers, and potential greencard husbands, a portrait of the immigrant experience will begin to form. The dynamics of the community--seldom represented in the media in any honest, meaningful way--and its effect on the individual’s sense of self, play out across Nina’s complicated story.
WHY WE’RE TELLING IT
With this film we want to explore a certain aspect of the immigrant experience that we have undergone ourselves. Though the details of our characters’ lives differ from our own experiences, we know firsthand what it is like to feel alone and adrift in a foreign culture you are now supposed to call your own.
We each moved to the U.S. from Russia (Alina) and Ukraine (Mikhail) when we were 9 years old. Growing up within a Russian community in America does something to your sense of identity. It calls for a negotiation between your family and your new culture, your heritage and your new experiences, your desire to assimilate and your need to remain true to yourself.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
In our previous projects, we have made small budgets work to our advantage. Our philosophy is rooted in experimentation: find interesting, creative ways to approach an idea that on the surface appears beyond our means. “How can we make this work?” And often, the results are more compelling than if things had been easy.
And we plan on making our budget for this project go very far. That approach hasn’t changed.
What has changed is the scope of our idea. This is by far the largest, most complicated project either of us have directed/produced ourselves. It’s going to take money: the cast is large, the locations are many, and--most importantly--everything needs to be authentic.
What do we mean by authentic?
Our idea for this film is to show the Russian-speaking immigrant community of Brighton Beach as we know it. That means the food the characters eat cannot just be any plate of food. The clothes they wear must be the clothes these characters would wear. The actors must look, feel, and sound, like someone you would encounter on Brighton Beach. This is essential to Girls Gone J-1 and it is an expense we feel is necessary to maintain the integrity of the project.
Here is how your contribution will be used to make the film:
WHO WE ARE
Writer-Directors: Mikhail Shraga and Alina Smirnova
Mikhail Shraga is an animator and video artist. He has done animation for Adult Swim and Comedy Central, including work on Super Jail, Metalocalypse, and Ugly Americans. Currently, Mikhail’s work is focused on mixing animation and projection with live performance, including work with the Yara Arts Group of the LaMaMa Experimental Theater. In 2012, he was nominated for a New York Innovative Theater Award for his work on Yara’s “Raven.”
He co-produces his own short films as part of the collaborative experimental music/film group FUXCS. In 2013, the FUXCS short “Technicolor Fever“ was included in MAMA BIRDING, showing in NYC and Toronto.
Alina Smirnova studied Fine Art at Cornell University, attended the PCFE film school in Prague, Czech Republic, and is currently completing graduate studies in Design for Stage and Film at TISCH/NYU.
An early enthusiasm for video art and performance lead to Alina’s interest in filmmaking. She produced and directed her own short films at PCFE and has been involved in film production ever since. She has worked variously as production designer, set designer, general crew member, art department PA, and occasional actor, in everything from short films and music videos to large scale feature films.
Alina is currently doing production design for plays by Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, to be staged at NYU by acclaimed theater director JoAnne Akalaitis.
Star of the Film: Nina Medvinskaya
Nina Medvinskaya is a Ukrainian ballerina and actress. She received her dance training at Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York, performing on international stages and in different parts of America, and danced professionally with The Ballet Theatre of Maryland. Her first major film role was in Eliza Hittman’s film, Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight, which premiered at The Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Her most recent project was the short film, Animal Rights, directed by Inna Braude, which premiered at the New York Shorts Film Festival, at Landmark Sunshine Theater in May of 2013.
WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO TO HELP
You can help by telling others, and spreading the word about this Kickstarter campaign. You can also check out the updates and become a fan of our Facebook page.
We're excited to get this film made. We're excited for you to be a part of it.
For more information:
Risks and challenges
Earlier we mentioned how important authenticity of setting and character portrayal is to us and we would like to restate how resolute we are to making the right choices of wardrobe, props and makeup. It will certainly be a challenge, but with your help we can hire the right people and allocate the best resources to create a compelling film.
Casting bilingual actors who have a working knowledge of both Russian and English is another challenge that we face. We have finely sculpted our characters to serve the dramaturgical demands of the screenplay and finding the right actors for the parts is one of our most important goals.
The scenes of our film take place in both public and private spaces such as the boardwalk, the beach, and a nightclub. We will need to acquire permits and lock down locations. As many of you know, it’s often a complicated and lengthy process. If unfavorable events do arise, such as a permit denial, we are willing to adapt our story to other available locations, but changes must be kept to a minimum so as not to loose the integrity of the story. We will do everything in our power to keep the production rolling.
- (20 days)